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Jerzy Maksymiuk (Conductor)

Born: April 9, 1936 - Grodno (now Grodna in Belarus), Poland

The Polish conductor, composer and pianist, Jerzy Maksymiuk, studied composition with Piotr Perkowski (degree in 1962), piano with Jerzy Lefeld (degree in 1964) and conducting with Bogusław Madey (degree in 1969) at the State Higher School of Music in Warsaw. Winner of numerous music competitions: in 1961, 1st prize in the National Ignacy Jan Paderewski Piano Competition in Bydgoszcz; in 1962 - 1st prize in the National Competition for Improvisers in Katowice. He was also awarded in competitions for composers: the Artur Malawski Competition in Cracow and the Grzegorz Fitelberg Competition in Katowice.

In 1970-1972, he was a conductor in the Grand Theatre in Warsaw, on whose Side Stage he presented world premieres of Zbigniew Bargielski’s Little Prince, Bernadetta Matuszczak’s Juliet and Romeo, and the Polish Ballets with music by Witold Lutosławski, Zbigniew Turski, and Krzysztof Penderecki, as well as as his own composition - Metaphrases (1971). In 1972, he started conducting his new orchestra, formed in Warsaw Chamber Opera, which in 1973 took the name of Polish Chamber Orchestra and soon gained international acclaim. In 1984, the orchestra was transformed into Sinfonia Varsovia. In 1973, Maksymiuk began to conduct the Great Symphony Orchestra of the Polish Radio, with which he toured Austria, and in 1974 and 1976 - the USA. In 1975-1977, he was the principal conductor and artistic director of this orchestra.

The success of his first tour with Polish Chamber Orchestra in 1977, particularly in Britain, brought Maksymiuk a recording contract with EMI, and numerous appearances with British orchestras: London Symphony Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra, English Chamber Orchestra, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. He also performed as guest conductor with such orchestras as: Israel Chamber Orchestra, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre National de France, Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Calgary Symphony Orchestra, Buffalo Symphony Orchestra, and Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. In 1979, he conducted Polish Chamber Orchestra in New York’s Carnegie Hall, and in 1981 he took the orchestra on a grand concert tour of Japan, Australia, New Zealand, the USA and Germany. From 1983 to 1993 he was the director of BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in Glasgow, an orchestra which he conducted also in Poland - in Cracow, Wrocław, Bydgoszcz and Warsaw, and twice during the “Warsaw Autumn” Festival: in 1985 (performing works by Iannis Xenakis, Igor Stravinsky, Zbigniew Penherski) and in 1987 (with compositions by, among others, Augustyn Bloch, Witold Lutosławski, Arvo Pärt). In 1990, Maksymiuk made his debut at the BBC Proms in Royal Albert Hall in London. He also started conducting the English National Opera, in which he prepared the premieres of W.A. Mozart’s Don Giovanni (1991) and Johann Strauss’s The Bat (1993).

Jerzy Maksymiuk is a distinguished promoter of contemporary music. For many years,he was a co-author of the “Warsaw Autumn” Festival, where he served on the Programme Committee. On his initiative, many works were written specially for the Polish Chamber Orchestra.

Jerzy Maksymiuk's work in the UK, highly acclaimed by the critics, earned him many prestigious titles: in 1990 – an honorary doctorate of Strathclyde University in Glasgow; twice the Gramophone Award: in 1993 - for The Confession of Isobel Gowdie by James MacMillan (EMI) and in 1995 - for Piano Concertos Nos. 2 & 3 by Nicolas Medtner (Hyperion). In 1993, he was granted the honorary title of Conductor Laureate by BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.

Jerzy Maksymiuk’s brilliant conducting career is connected mainly with Polish Chamber Orchestra, which he led from itsearliest beginnings in 1972. He brought this ensemble of twenty four string instrument players to the summit of performing mastery, and endowed the ensemble with a unique artistic individuality. His work with Polish Chamber Orchestra became the subject of numerous anecdotes. He was an extremely demanding boss, who made every musician work at full capacity at all times. Orchestra members who did not live up to his standards were replaced without remorse. There was no end to rehearsals. Still, once the ensemble started performing publicly, it caused a genuine sensation. Maksymiuk presented a new quality of style and sound. He paid special attention to articulation, which refreshed and radically rejuvenated the orchestral sound, endowing it with unusual energy, clarity and flexibility. He individualised the orchestral sound, giving every instrument an important role in the total sound image. He abandoned the traditional phrasing of the Romantic era and revolutionised the dynamics. Most of all, he shocked the audiences with fast tempos, which he pushed to the limit of performing capacities. Polish Chamber Orchestra was a typical string orchestra, the musicians played ordinary instruments, but Maksymiuk’s new aesthetic models approximated to the so called “authentic” performance, aiming at reconstructing original performing styles from different periods. Today “authenticity” has become an important part of music life worldwide, but in the early 1970s the attempts at reviving the original performing practices in early music were still in the trial phase. Maksymiuk followed the model of the enormously successful Academy of St. Martin in the Fields conducted by Neville Marriner, an ensemble quite similar to Polish Chamber Orchestra. In Poland, the orchestra gained recognition after a 1973 concert in the National Philharmonic Hall in Warsaw, when it performed, among others, the 17th-century Tamburetto by Adam Jarzębski - a performance which in those days became a genuine revelation. Also unusual and, at that time, highly controversial, were the interpretations of W.A. Mozart’s works. Maksymiuk’s orchestra soon became specialised in Antonio Vivaldi’s music. Before long, the ensemble won international fame, which was borne out by a whole series of recordings for the leading European record company EMI. The orchestra’s discography included European works from various periods: A. Vivaldi’s compositions with the famous Four Seasons, W.A. Mozart and Rossini, as well as works by Polish composers: Jarzębski, Janiewicz, Baird and Górecki. The conductor and his orchestra were highly praised by Neville Marriner himself. In 1979, Polish Chamber Orchestra played in the celebrated Carnegie Hall in New York.

In 1983, Jerzy Maksymiuk became the director of BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in Glasgow, and a year later the extended Polish Chamber Orchestra changed its name to Sinfonia Varsovia and found a new conductor in the person of Yehudi Menuhin. Maksymiuk gave performances with this old-new ensemble only sporadically. When asked (in an interview for Studio music magazine) why he had abandoned his ensemble, he explained: “we could not work so intensively any longer. And besides, if one spends too much time with the same people, things begin to go wrong. Another thing - the repertoire of chamber music is limited. I was asked all the time to conduct serenades by Tchaikovsky and Dvořak, Benjamin Britten’s Variations and Béla Bartók's Divertimento. Our interpretations were excellent, every note was really mine, but how long can one play the same things? Now I am a symphony conductor, not a chamber musician”. (Studio 1992 No. 1)

Source: Polish Music Information Centre Website
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (October 2005)

Recordings of Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works




Jerzy Maksymiuk


Aria from BWV 244 [w/ contralto Mira Zakai & violin Yehudi Menuhin] [Video]

Links to other Sites

Maksymiuk Jerzy (Polish Music Information Center) [Polish/English]
Jerzy Maksymiuk - Conductor (IMGArtists)
Polish culture: JERZY MAKSYMIUK [English/Polish]

Jerzy Maksymiuk (BeArTon) [English/Polish]
Artist Page: Jerzy Maksymiuk - Conductor (Hyperion)
Jerzy Maksymiuk (Wikipedia) [Polish]

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Explanation | Acronyms | Missing Biographies | The Sad Corner


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